In the painting, I'm seated in a shield,
by Les Murray
coming home in it up a shadowy river.
It is a small metal boat lined in eggshell
and my hands grip the gunwale rims. I'm
a composite bow, tensioning the whole boat,
steering it with my gaze. No oars, no engine,
no sails. I'm propelling the little craft with speech.
The faded rings around the loose bulk shirt
are of five lines each, a musical lineation
and the shirt is apple-red, soaking in salt birth-sheen
more liquid than the river. My cap is a teal mask
pushed back so far that I can pretend it is headgear.
In the middle of the river are cobweb cassowary trees
of the South Pacific, and on the far shore rise
dark hills of the temperate zone. To these, at this
moment in the painting's growth, my course is slant
but my eye is on them. To relax, to speak European.